It’s finally here. It’s hard to believe, but Serious Sam 3 is almost 9 years old as I’ve started typing this. Over that time there has been a lot of concern with many fans. Many wondered if it would see the light of day after Croteam had such luck with the beloved Talos Principle and then their VR efforts with Serious Sam VR games like The Last Hope, and ports of The First and Second Encounter to VR. From there it was a sporadic blip or two. A quick quip to say it was coming, or news that the writers of The Talos Principle would be writing the storyline to this game. A couple of years ago we got the first trailer, then not much of anything. But then leading up to the release, we suddenly saw several trailers.
PROS: Legion System. Writing. Added Features. Classic gameplay is retained.
CONS: Bugs. Uneven optimization. Inconsistent visual quality at times. Unbalanced segments.
RIDE: Piloting Werebulls and Khnums is one of the most fun things you can do here.
Those trailers got a lot of people psyched. And shortly after I began my initial play through, I saw a few people lamenting the game. And I couldn’t understand why. When first starting the game I had a pretty exceptional first impression. The game has a slew of options for tweaking graphics, performance, audio, and more. The game does a pretty good job of pre picking options based upon your hardware configuration when it does its initial scan. But if you want to lower things for performance, or raise things to make them look as good as things allow.
That said, the requirements for Serious Sam 4 are a little bit beefy. While they’re nowhere near the level of hardware you’ll need for some of the AAA multiplatform blockbusters from the likes of Activision, EA, or Ubisoft, you won’t be able to get by on a potato machine. You’ll need at least a 64-bit quad core processor running 2.5Ghz or better, 8GB of memory, an nVidia GeForce 780 or better on the graphics end. If you prefer AMD graphics you’ll need a Radeon 7950 or better. The video cards have to have at least 3GB of Video memory on them and even that might be a bit anemic. The game will take 40GB or more of hard disk space. According to the game’s Steam page that should let you run the game at around a 720p resolution at 30 Frames per second (approximately 1280 x 720). Things may not look so sharp for those with an older computer but a 1080p monitor resolution or higher. Particularly if you want to run it full screen.
My computer (the one I played the game on) contains an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB M2 SSD along with an nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER. So I actually exceeded the recommended requirements a little bit. Be that as it may, I did have a couple of issues I’ll get to later in the review. But most of the time, things seemed to run the way they ought to. At least through the first half of the game anyway.
When the game begins we’re treated to an interactive introduction where the characters in the story can be seen talking. Or rather their reflections of themselves talking on broken satellite panels and spaceship debris floating above the Earth’s atmosphere. Things then shift down to the surface where we see a massive battle going on with the tens of thousands of enemies that Croteam promised us we would see. And to their credit, it’s one of the coolest things you’ll see in a video game. As I said, this is an interactive scene. In engine. Not a cutscene. You move around, fighting the hordes of Mental’s minions. It’s a short-lived moment though because you’ll be knocked out by a giant monster. Once this happens, we’re sent back a few months before this scene takes place.
This sets up the storyline by The Talos Principle’s writers Jonas and Verena Kyratzes. And if you thought that the deep, philosophical writing style of that game would be repeated here, and overshadowing everything you would be wrong. Here they go for a Direct-To-Video Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and it fits the series’ mix of violent, gristly action, and tongue in cheek effectively. Much like Serious Sam 3, this game dabbles in expanding the world of Serious Sam by introducing some newer characters as well as fleshing out some background ones a little bit more.
But the game never makes you delve into any of it if you don’t care to. You can skip every single cutscene the game has to offer if you choose to do so. One of the earliest characters you’ll meet is Kenny, who is basically like the Orko to your He-Man. He’s a comic relief character but almost in reverse. What I mean by that, is when the game introduces the other members of Sam’s team over time, you’ll find most of them have the 1980s action movie vibe about them. They crack one-liners while blowing away hordes of enemies. Kenny is more like a traditional rank and file soldier. Not a chiseled, gritty veteran (Though the game has one of those), but a character with an almost straight-man comedy role. Over time, the characters become an Expendables-like ensemble. The storyline basically starts right before the events of Serious Sam 3 so we have another prequel. A prequel to a prequel. But the story is honestly pretty entertaining.
One of the highest ranking officials in Mental’s army, Lord Achriman has all but conquered Earth. But he is constantly being annoyed by the small uprisings around the globe that keep him from putting a period on the end of his proverbial sentence. Throughout the game’s cutscene’s and in game background audio he fills the role of Half-Life 2’s Dr. Breen. Appearing on TV and Radio to spout off his propaganda and thinly veiled attempts to get the human race to just give up and let him have the last 10 percent of Earth as well. Sadly, as of this writing the character doesn’t seem to have a credit for the voice actor. But it’s easily one of the best performances here. Obviously, John J Dick reprises his role as Serious Sam, and he does it as well as ever.
Over the course of the game you’re tasked with helping a Priest, Father Mikhail get to the Ark Of The Covenant, so that the human resistance can use the Holy Grail to defeat Mental’s forces. This is another fantastic character who is well-written and somehow both grounded and over-the-top. A lot of the humor they sprinkle in is also over-the-top. Over-the-top without doing anything that very many would find too offensive either. Not that I’m debating comedy here, rather saying I didn’t see anything very sensitive people on any spectrum would be too bothered by. And honestly, when it’s funny, it’s really, really funny. I genuinely laughed several times during my playthrough. The characters are all likeable, even the villains, and the story even throws you a few curveballs here and there. Some you’ll see coming. But some will honestly catch you by surprise.
But don’t think this is going to be a game of escort missions, or boring fetch-quests. Well fetch-quests that don’t involve getting a key or other item you don’t really need. This is still very much a Serious Sam game. Though we’re given a number of new features here as well as find a few other features from previous games expanded upon. First off, Serious Sam 3 introduced a melee kill system that DOOM 2016 perfected in the eyes of many. It’s returned here, and it feels like they’ve given iD Software the kudos here because this will feel very similar. That said, some of the melee kills here are more involved than you might expect. They’ve also implemented a point system similar to DOOM 2016. Over the course of the game you can find these blue glass orbs. You can then use these to access a skill tree, and you can use the points to unlock abilities. And its used to great effect here. You’ll want to use these too, because Serious Sam 4 is the most challenging installment yet.
That’s because of something Croteam calls the Legion System, a software engine enhancement they’ve created that (as I mentioned earlier describing the intro) allows the game to display tens of thousands of enemies at once without a massive resource drain (most of the time. more on that later). As such there are a number of times throughout the game where you’ll be killing more aliens than ever. And while they are only that insane number a handful of times throughout the campaign, most of the time you’ll still be going up against more enemies than you did in the older games.
For those new to Serious Sam as a series, many have made the mistake of thinking of these games in the same vein as classic twitch FPS games like DOOM, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D due to the fast gameplay, crazy weapons, and wise-cracking protagonist. But while those certainly inspired elements of the games Croteam’s series shares more in common with classic twin stick arcade games when it comes to level design. Where DOOM often has tight corridors, monster closets of a dozen to thirty most times and few massive arenas, Serious Sam does not. Serious Sam’s missions and maps share more in common with something like Midway’s Smash T.V..
You’ll often start in an area that gives you health items, and perhaps a weapon. You then leave that area and enter a large arena or vista. Here, you’ll be swarmed by many, many enemies. Often times it numbers in the hundreds. That’s not to say the games only put you in giant maps or sections with enemies. Each of them do, in fact put you in smaller structures, or areas with thin hallways, or mazes with a smaller number of enemies. But unlike other FPS games, it’s almost relentless. There aren’t very many moments where you can let your guard down in Serious Sam games, and Serious Sam 4 is no exception. Serious Sam’s enemies are also more vulnerable to some weapons than others. So it’s a constant management on the fly requirement as you’re always switching weapons as you confront different enemy types in the same massive wave.
Serious Sam stages are always quite large when you take into account the fact that with the exception of the second game, you can go almost anywhere within reason to hunt for secrets and other items. You can still very much do that in Serious Sam 4. But instead of just blindly roaming around for hours, this time stages have alternate missions that going off the beaten path will lead to. The game does mark these, and puts up little descriptors telling you what lies in store for you if you succeed in finding it. Often times it pays to take the risk, and go for these. They’ll have little cutscenes often times to set things up in the story to explain why Sam isn’t just going for the goal. Sometimes you’re getting something for a citizen, other times you’re trying for some meta storyline stuff. But in any case you do get useful things for doing so.
Among these are some of the new items you can use in combat. One of these is a thermos that basically gives Serious Sam super speed like the shoes in the other games did. The difference here is its been combined with Serious Damage from the older games. So you’ll outrun enemies, and have four times the stopping power. Another one of these items is effectively bullet time. So you get a splash of Max Payne in your Serious Sam 4. And it benefits you greatly when you’re fighting in some of the larger scale events and you need that extra time to dodge the 486 rockets from the 56 Scrapjacks that just warped into the battle. Then there’s the Black Hole Bomb, which like Mega Man 10’s, sucks all of the on screen enemies into a black hole. A fun, and well-executed take on the classic smart bomb. Finally there’s the tactical nuke which is more or less a flashy smart bomb.
Throughout the game you’ll also find audio logs, text files, and other things that fill out some of the story details the cutscenes and voiceover might miss. They do manage to do a couple of funny fourth wall breaking jokes here too. But by the end you’ll probably find a lot of it endearing. They’ve done a great job in the action and comedy side of Serious Sam.
Beyond that, they’ve once again retooled many of the classic enemies, and given them some noteworthy updates to their looks. In most cases, they’ve built upon their Serious Sam 3 counterparts, blending some of the more contemporary horror and sci-fi feel with these fantastical characters. But at the same time, they’ve brought back some of that classic, silly feel from the old games here, reminding us of just how not serious, Serious Sam is. This is reflected in the bright colors, and crazy designs of some of the newly introduced enemies. There are vampires that scream at you like Sindel, the Draconian Pyromaniacs that shoot fireballs with flamethrowers, and The dreaded Processed, a bunch of mutant Prisoners who swarm you and shank you with knives.
Combine it all together with far more numbers than you’ve ever seen previously and we’re talking quite a few dicey moments. Especially if you find yourself in an area with very limited ammo or health drops. Which happens a couple of times at dire moments in this game. It’s one of the handful of issues I had in my initial run. There are a couple of large scale fights where you simply will not have enough supplies on hand to survive. While this can happen to you even in the old games, in the old games it’s usually the result of you being a little too callous and free wheeling with your ammo. Here, these fights are going to be especially hard if you come into a situation with only four rockets, and find that there is a scant two, rockets flashing in the field waiting to be picked up. Now don’t misunderstand me. This is not a frequent problem. But when it happens, it really hurts. To remedy this the game does have a couple of options to help a little bit.
The first thing you can do, is save, and save OFTEN. That probably goes without saying. But if you can go back three or four rooms, pick up the right ammo again, then try to get back to the point you’ll have trouble with without using it, that’s something. The second thing you can do is use the aforementioned perk system by choosing options that will make enemies drop ammo for your currently held weapon when you kill them, or give you 1 to 5 percent health back if you dispatch them with a melee attack.
The third thing is one of the newer features, and that is headshots. If you can hit the enemies square between the eyes it does big damage. Most of your small enemies like the Processed, and Octarian foot soldiers will die in a single hit. Some of the medium enemies will take four to ten. Like the Scrapjacks. Large enemies like the Khnum will have you admitting you’re boned no matter what you use. Though you can use the perk system to allow you to ride some enemies like Werebull or Khnum as vehicles. This is honestly pretty cool.
Other ways to try to work around that are to save the aforementioned Black Hole Bombs, Bullet Time, and Nuke for the most dire situations. There’s also a health syringe I forgot to mention. It falls under that category as well as the enemy on enemy gas canister I also forgot to mention. This gas makes the enemies fight each other for a short time. So if you find some of those be sure to save them up for when those undefeatable waves turn up. One last power up I forgot to mention is the decoy, where quite humorously, a hologram of our hero skates around and fakes out the enemies causing them to shoot at it instead of you.
Some may complain that these are ways to make some of the game easier. But considering the fact that you’ll often fight several hundred to a thousand enemies, you’ll be glad they’re here. Despite ALL of those workarounds, there will be some moments where there just won’t be enough extra ammo or health lying in the area. So try to conserve ammo wherever and whenever possible.
One of the other things Croteam mentioned is just how large they can now make maps as well as their new vegetation system. Well there is one massive stage where you’ll be able to see it in action as it does indeed display a bevy of bushes, flowers, and trees. Unfortunately this is the stage where a lot of the technical problems reared their ugly heads in my initial play through. The first of these was a strange A.I. bug. I ran into an encampment of enemies where none of them moved around at all whatsoever until I shot one of them. Not a major problem in the grand scheme of things, but still odd enough. And it could make things a little too easy. This is also the stage where you’ll get to use a few different vehicles. These are some truly fun moments, especially when you can use them in combat.
Near the end of the stage, I started to get some of the other issues. There were a couple of weird pop in issues where the game seemed to suddenly have issues loading higher quality textures, and I also had some brief stuttering in a large scale battle. This wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow had it not been the one and only time I really saw it happen.
While I’m talking about the look of the game here, I’ll address one complaint I’ve seen come up a few different places online, and that is how the game allegedly doesn’t look much better than Serious Sam 3. That, in my opinion, isn’t entirely true. While the main characters look slightly better than the ones in the last game, the enemies here look FAR more detailed, and varied. The lighting here is greatly improved, and one also has to remember that this game renders an obscene amount of enemies at any given time, which likely requires as much power as rendering some of the Hollywood visuals present in some other new releases.
Some of the revised characters like the Gnarrs, Headless Kamikazes, and Scorpions look markedly better than they did in the previous game, and a lot of the new combatants have a level of detail that will simply amaze you, especially when there are 25 of them among the 400 other creatures charging at you. like the flying Kalopsys’ Brain stems or the wrinkles in the Processeds’ orange jumpsuits. Even the weapon models have some really nice textures on them that add a sense of realism to them. Environments also look noticeably better than they did in the last game. Especially thanks to the enhanced lighting effects.
Now that isn’t to say, that the game looks on par with some of the AAA games out there, but again, that is offset somewhat by the impressive animation and enemy counts. The other thing to consider is that development did stall for the creation of The Talos Principle, and the VR Serious Sam games. So it’s likely that they enhanced their existing software technology rather than create an entirely new iteration of their Serious Engine.
One part of the game that is undeniably fantastic however is the soundtrack. Damjan Mravunac really outdid themselves this time, giving us not only a lot of awesome new songs that fit the motif of each stage they appear in, but some remixed versions, and reimagined versions of classic songs from The First Encounter, The Second Encounter, and Serious Sam 3. One of the ones that especially stuck out to me was the Vatican Fight music that played during the lead up to an epic boss fight involving a Gundam in Italy.
Boss fights in Serious Sam have always been these grand scale, larger than life fights and the ones in Serious Sam 4 really up the ante. Almost all of them involve fighting skyscraper sized behemoths, and even the ones that don’t will still require some level of puzzle solving skills. This is especially true when you get to the last couple of them where mere brute force won’t be enough to take them down.
Once you do clear the game, there are a couple of factors that will likely lead to replays if you find you really enjoyed your run. The first of these are the side missions. Any of the ones you might have missed are still there for you to experience. So if you’re the type who likes to do everything a game has for you to go for, this gives you a great reason to play it again. The other thing is the multiplayer. Like previous Serious Sam games, you can go through the entire campaign in Co-Op. This makes an already fun game even more so. Unfortunately , this time around you can only have four players. This is likely a concession for performance concerns. But coming from previous titles where sixteen people could play together, it can be a little bit disappointing. Still, this is the perfect kind of FPS to play with friends of all skill levels as everyone can contribute to slaying down the hordes of skeletons, kamikazes, scorpions and harpy menace.
In closing, Serious Sam 4 is a terrific entry in the franchise that mostly follows the familiar formula that made the series beloved. It’s simplistic but brutal blend of arcade mayhem and difficulty is as fun as it ever was. And most of the new ideas, imported features from other games, as well as the clever writing and voice acting really accent the proven formula nicely. It really will give you some moments that will wow you, and it will genuinely make you laugh when it throws some humor your way. That said, the bugs, and performance problems that crop up three quarters of the way through the game can be pretty annoying at times. If and when you run into any of them you’ll either have to try to tweak the game settings, and settings on your computer to compensate if they happen to get pretty bad for you, or (In the case of A.I. inconsistency) you’ll have to find a way to cheese your way through. As of this writing, Croteam has said they’re looking into these problems and hope to have patches out to fix them. But as it stands they can mar an otherwise wonderful game. The other thing I would be remiss to not mention is that if you’ve played one of the older games and didn’t enjoy it for whatever reason, this won’t change your mind. While I feel they really improved on some things here, it’s again, still very much a Serious Sam game. The core concept is centered around clearing large waves of enemies to advance, and if that isn’t your thing, this probably won’t change that.
Problems aside, I still found this game incredibly enjoyable. It’s easy to recommend to franchise fans because of how fun it truly is, and I can even recommend it to newcomers who are looking for a fast-paced action game experience. Serious Sam games have their own unique flair and feel. They’re not in the Doom, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D area of classic shooter despite the large amount of action they provide. But they’re nothing like any of the various military themed shooters, or the popular hero arena shooters out there either. This one also has a number of new additions that you may find yourself wishing the older entries had. Serious Sam 4 is a bad ass game hampered by some hitches that will hopefully be ironed out sooner than later. But even with its problems, it’s more than worth playing through. Especially if you have a couple of friends looking for a co-operative experience who are also willing to buy a copy for themselves.
Final Score: 8 out of 10